In a previous life I organised sporting events. Along the way I met some pretty interesting people. Among them Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards, ski-jumper, and Imran Khan, cricketer. A greater contrast one couldn’t imagine.
Eddie ‘headlined’ a golf event for us at a course called Arscott, near Shrewsbury. The event was one of our company’s first so it was important to get it right. There’s a fair amount of preparation for an ‘corporate’ golf day, looking for sponsors, selling teams, organising prizes and setting up a post-event dinner etc. Flyers were printed and distributed and, largely because of Eddie, there was quite a bit of interest.
Bear in mind this was mid-1990s, shortly after Eddie had become, for a while, one of the best known sporting personalities in the world with his exploits at the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988.
Come the day of the event, we were rather nervous. We needed things to go well.
Half seven in the morning I got a phone call.
‘Jo, it’s Eddie. Bit of a problem, I can’t come, my car won’t start.’
Sharp intake of breath.
‘Uh, we need you Eddie. The event revolves around you. Can’t you borrow a car. Or hire one?’
‘Can’t hire one without my manager’s say so, and he’s on holiday.’
‘Well, please think of something.’
He rang back 15 minutes later.
‘We’re right,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a car. I’m borrowing me Mam’s.’
‘Great. See you later.’
Long release of breath.
We had about twenty teams playing and a few other, less well known, celebrities, including Renée of Renée and Renato fame. He played in a team that included my wife. Randy bugger he was. He serenaded and propositioned her on the course! ‘Save your love for me….’
I digress. Eddie turned up in his Mam’s old mini. At the time he was one of the best-known personalities on the planet. He was wearing orange, flowery leggings, ideal attire for a golf day! But he was one of the few people who could get away with it. What a lovely, engaging character he was. Just Eddie, no airs and graces. He chatted with all and sundry.
‘I hope you’ve bought something else to wear for the dinner,’ I said to him.
‘Oh aye,’ he said.
Turns out they were a different pair of leggings. These blue with a swirly pattern. He made the day. Just a polite, modest, thoroughly decent man. Awful golfer, great fun.
A number of years later our company had moved on, including organising cricket matches. Because we did some work for The Professional Cricketers Association, we had access to plenty of well-known cricketers. We staged a game at Wellington Cricket Club in Shropshire. Star of the show Imran Khan, international superstar.
Yes, a wonderful cricketer, but despite being the star attraction and hero to many spectators including kids, he behaved with imperious arrogance. He was pretentious, conceited and aloof – except when the TV crew turned up. Out came the handshakes, smiles and warmth. Pearly whites to the fore, pat the kids on the head. A future politician at work.
It appeared as if he was just too important for our provincial match.
During the game, my wife asked if she could help. I asked her to stand at the dining room door during the tea interval and make sure only those wearing cricket whites be allowed in. This is so they could have their tea first, finish up and get back to the match.
Imran had put on a leather jacket and sunglasses so Jan, not having a clue who he was, wouldn’t let him in. It was Gladstone Small who told Jan she could make an exception in this instance! That proved to be the only amusing moment in our brief sortie into a superstar’s heady world.
Over the years, we had many well-known cricketers to our events and almost without exception they were great company and good fun and humble, despite their fame.
Imran Khan achieved much in cricket and went on to be Prime Minister of Pakistan. But I, and others, will remember another side to him.
Not long after ‘Eddies’ golf day I was in Norway and took a chair-lift up a mountain. Its route happened to take us right over the top of a ski-jump. Roughly twenty feet below me was the point from where the ski jumpers would set off down the 90-metre hill. Looking down made my heart lurch. I’m not great with heights in general, but boy oh boy, did this give me the collywobbles.
Yes, it looks steep on TV, but in reality it is really steep. Not just the jump itself, but also the landing / run-off area. Safety looks an awful long way away.
The courage that Eddie Edwards showed to set off down there is mind-boggling. Again and again. He was ridiculed for being a failure, for constantly coming last. Thus, he became inglorious and infamous. Then he became famous when people realized just what he’d achieved, what bottle he had shown. He broke bones during his crusade, including his skull twice. His glasses steamed up on the runway. Imagine leaping off into space at 60+ miles per hour with impaired vision.
Perhaps that helped! But, whatever, he kept going. Only after that chair-lift ride did I really appreciate what he’d done.
I flew into Calgary many years later. Driving across town, I saw two ski-jumps in the distance, the 70 and 90-metre hills, scene of Eddies heroics. I got goose-bumps all over again. I also got a sense of pride that one of our own, an ordinary, decent man, had sparkled on the biggest stage of all.
Even today, I smile at those memories. The incredible courage, the steamed-up glasses, the leggings, his Mam’s mini.
Imran or Eddie. No contest.